My question seems to be simple at first sight, but it is confusing for me. I feel that "the last chance" means the kind of chance which ends any other chances, while "a last chance" is like one of many last chances. I would go for "the last chance," but the problem is that I can see quite a few native-speakers' opinions on the internet that "a last chance" is the right choice while "the last chance" is wrong, yet, it is used in a sentence like "I give you the/a last chance". Is it "a" or "the"?

  • Possible duplicate of ell.stackexchange.com/questions/9429/… – Matt Sep 24 '13 at 4:23
  • This question simply doesn't come up in normal usage, because 99% of the time, you use "[possessive] last chance". My last chance, your last chance, Bob's last chance... you never talk about last chances in the abstract, you always specify who's last chance it is. – Martha Sep 25 '13 at 1:14
  • @Martha Well, not necessarily. "This is the last chance you will have ..." "I realized that this was the last chance I would get to ..." It's probably true that it's more common to say "my last chance", "your last chance", etc, but other constructions happen often enough. – Jay Mar 5 '14 at 18:25

"Last chance" pretty much implies that there is only one. You can't have two "last" chances, or one of them wouldn't be last. So normally you would say "the last chance".

I suppose if you were talking about your last chance to do X and also about your last chance to do Y, or about Al's last chance and Bob's last chance, then you might refer to one of them as "a last chance". But I think that would be rare.

Perhaps you could give an example where someone said that "a last chance" is right and "the last chance" is wrong.

  • After thought 7 years later *

It occurs to me that I get lots of emails that say, "This is your last chance to take advantage of this fabulous offer!!!!" Then I ignore the email and a few days later I get another "last chance", and another and another. So apparently "last chance" doesn't mean that there's just one last chance. You get an endless stream of them. :-)

  • If hope it won't violate the rules if I post a link. forum.wordreference.com/showthread.php?t=1866285 – user1425 Sep 23 '13 at 21:47
  • @user1425: Apart from the (apparently, now banned) user who started that forum thread, I don't see anyone else questioning the standard idiomatic English usage here. And since that user eventually accepted that his attempt to make a semantic distinction between "a/the" was misguided, I don't see why you still needed to ask here. – FumbleFingers Sep 23 '13 at 21:53
  • I am questioning it now as I am not that user. Plus I don't see solid and clear answers there. They are controversial and confusing for me. – user1425 Sep 23 '13 at 21:59
  • @user1425 They are confusing even if you ignore that person? – Tyler James Young Sep 24 '13 at 22:24

I claim the problem here is not uniqueness; it's that the sentence does not mean what it says.

Consider "please give me a second chance." I don't expect any native speakers to have any objections to that one, even though obviously you only get one second chance.

The problem with "Won't you give me a last chance?" is the simple fact that, however many chances you have had so far, you already had a last chance. (It was whatever you just failed at.) The question isn't really asking for a last chance; it's asking for another chance.

  • I see it differently. I don't have a problem with "A second chance" as I can see how it means "another chance". But I was talking about "the last chance" which is given to someone. It's not that one is asking for "a/the last chance" it is that someone gives someone else really the last (terminal) chance. And I have difficulty imagining "the last chance" to be "a last chance". – user1425 Sep 24 '13 at 8:23
  • Well, do you think you can have two second chances? – Greg Hullender Sep 24 '13 at 16:54
  • You can have two second chances but not simultaneously. – user1425 Sep 24 '13 at 16:57
  • 1
    The "second' example brings an interesting thought to mind. Suppose you are at a cook-out. There are a row of hamburgers on the grill, and the cook asks which one you want. You might say, "Please give me the second one from the left." Note "the". But suppose you eat that and then you are not sure if there are enough hamburgers for you to take two without depriving someone else. You might ask, "Is it okay if I have a second hamburger?" Note "a". Perhaps this is because when you ask for "a second hamburger" you do not have a particular hamburger in mind, just any hamburger, that will then ... – Jay Sep 26 '13 at 19:43
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    ... become your second. Likewise with "please give me a second chance", at the time you ask that chance did not exist, you are asking the person to create A chance and give it to you. But if you were discussing it after the fact, you would refer to it as "the". Like: "On THE second chance they gave me, I succeeded." You wouldn't say, "On A second change they gave me ..." – Jay Sep 26 '13 at 19:45

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